Holding onto optimism three weeks after the tornado

Dennis Parker is holding onto optimism that his family will soon have a new place to call home and move out of the Red Cross shelter in north Minneapolis for families displaced by the May 22 tornado. Photo credit: Bill Fitler/American Red Cross

“I’ll never forget that day,” says Dennis Parker Sr. while sitting down for breakfast at the Red Cross shelter at North Commons Recreations Center nearly 3 weeks after the tornado ripped through north Minneapolis.

“It started raining, it got real windy. I didn’t hear the siren until it was all over,” recalls Parker. “When the tornado came, it sounded like a bunch of trains. Bang! Bang! Bang! The tornado ripped the trees right out of the ground. It laid down five of them on our house, and we had a tree limb in our attic. Our basement flooded. It didn’t touch the neighbors on either side of us.”

Parker’s speech is animated as he describes how he, his wife, and four children sought refuge in their house during the storm, but his voice loses some intensity as he shares details about his family’s experiences looking for a new place to call home.

“My wife is in the computer room looking for other places for us to live. We’ll go visit anything she finds, and then we may go to the library. Yesterday we checked out a couple of apartments, but landlords don’t want to rent to us because we’re low income.”

Cots placed in a circle help families create personal spaces in the Red Cross shelter sleeping area at North Commons Recreation Center in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Amanda Mark/American Red Cross

For Parker, shelter life is something he has come to accept. The shelter’s sleeping area is in the North Commons gym. While not very private, each family has tucked their cots closely together, leaving any extra space they can manage between the different family groups. Families with small children have arranged a little play area in the middle of the cots for them.

“The Red Cross has been doing the best they can,” says Parker. “These people we call family, we’re all in the sandbox together. I kind of like being here. We really haven’t had any problems.”

During a graduation party held in the park behind North Commons a few days ago, and how the party organizers donated the rest of their food to those living in the shelter. He helped by cooking at the center’s outdoor grill.

That night, Parker met with a local group that’s helping people find new places to live after the storm. Parker says he’s holding onto optimism for him and his family.

“They were very uplifting, very reassuring,” he says. “They say ‘soon.’ Maybe we’ll find out today.”

(Reporting by Bill Fitler, Red Cross disaster relief volunteer)

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